Memories from the Trails
12 Jan 2022
After working for over 20 years in Fiordland National Park, I’d like to think that I have seen a fair bit of the 12,607 km² area. I have followed many tracks (more than once), discovered hidden gems, and worked on conservation projects to preserve as much of the natural beauty as possible, whilst also sharing my knowledge of this incredible World Heritage Area.
I know you aren’t supposed to have favourites, but I couldn’t help myself - I’ve listed my 5 top day walks in Fiordland below. This is the pocket of the world I love most and would love you to also see the best. There is something here for everyone whatever your experience level.
Gertrude Saddle Track
Let’s start off with a bang: the Gertrude Saddle Track.
You’ll need to be reasonably fit and have a head for heights to make the top of this demanding day walk. This route is only accessible after the avalanche season and the snow has cleared, from about late December through to April. But the views at the top are just ‘WOW’ and absolutely worth the effort! You’ll often see beautiful native flowers on your way up and observe wildlife, e.g. native rock wrens and kea, in their untouched natural habitat. Even though you’ll be high up in the sky, you will feel more grounded and in touch with the natural world than ever.
This track offers year-round alpine wonderland alpine. If you're going in summer, you might even want to consider bringing your togs; the lake will be incredibly inviting after a sweaty hike, but be prepared, the water is glacial and very cold!
The track itself has a rougher underfoot and is steep in places, but with the right gear and good preparation it is manageable for most, with a recommended 3-hour return walking time. Not sure what to bring? Read our article How to pack like a pro for a day hike to learn more about it.
This walk is the most famous track on my list, and for a very good reason! You may not be able to get a booking for the full 4-day walk, or have any desire to walk 55 km, but a day walk from Milford Sound from Sandfly Point offers a wonderful taste of this uncredible Great Walk and should be on everyone’s bucket list.
You’ll tramp along an incredible forest walk, through many shades of green, and underneath towering cliffs, made all the better with the rainfall. This has become our most walked track and was my commute during the time I worked as a hut warden at Dumpling Hut in the late 1990s!
This one is not for the faint hearted – it is a challenging day out and requires some logistical planning, including a boat to return from the head of Lake Te Anau. I would only recommend doing this route if you have backcountry experience and navigation knowledge. To access this track, you must first cross the Eglinton River, which can only be done in a low flow, so plan accordingly. This is a fine weather day out in the hills only! Despite the many challenges, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views over the Milford Track’s Clinton Valley at the top of the pass.
This incredible ‘highlight’ day walk is on the Kepler Great Walk, and suitable for a range of abilities, as the track is well maintained and clearly marked. Start your day by exploring Fiordland National Park from above as you are swept into the air by helicopter, taking you straight to the hut so you can enjoy more time in the alpine area. If you’re fit, you can even go to the top to Mt Luxmore! However far you get, enjoy amazing panoramic vistas, and feel the magnitude of this wilderness area before descending through the forest to the sandy shores of Lake Te Anau, the pick-up point for the boat back to civilisation.
To be completely honest, any tramp you choose to do in Fiordland National Park will be a memorable experience. It all depends on the company you’re with, how well you’re prepared for it, and if your expectations and motivations for the day are a match.
What I’ve learned during my time living and working here, is how to get those things (mostly) right! The Trips & Tramps guides will talk you through the tracks, sharing anecdotes and interesting facts about the area that will make any guided experience memorable and thoughtful. We are happy to answer any questions you might have beforehand and can give you valuable recommendations. But overall, we just want to share our love for this magnificent place with you.